The Rev. Susan Hendershot, president of Interfaith Power & Light, has visited members of her congregation in the hospital while they have struggled with chronic heart and lung diseases.
In a comment submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hendershot said strong clean car standards are necessary not only to protect the environment and address climate change, but they can also save lives.
“It is heart-wrenching to sit with congregants as they struggle with these disorders and know there is nothing you can do to ease their fear and anxiety,” she wrote in her comments.
The public comment period on proposed emission standards for vehicles starting with model year 2027 closed on July 5. The EPA will now review the comments prior to issuing a final rule.
The proposed standards could lead to 67 percent of new light and medium vehicles sold in 2032 being zero-emission vehicles.
According to the EPA, emissions from cars and trucks contribute to increased ozone and particulate matter levels. The emissions also include toxins linked to premature death and other health conditions including respiratory illness, cardiovascular problems and cancer.
While the air pollution impacts people across the country, those who live or work near major transportation corridors face greater levels of unhealthy air. These people are more likely to be low income or minorities.
The Pueblo of Santa Ana is located along one of these transportation corridors in southeastern Sandoval County about 15 miles north of Albuquerque. An interstate bisects the Pueblo lands while U.S. Highway 550 brings travelers along the Pueblo’s southern boundary.
“There are high traffic volumes and ongoing road construction in this area, producing heightened levels of emissions that have a significant impact on the Pueblo’s air quality,” Pueblo Gov. Nathan Garcia wrote in comments submitted to the EPA on behalf of the Pueblo.
In the comment, Garcia stated that the proposed regulations, along with other EPA efforts to reduce air pollution, will benefit the Pueblo of Santa Ana.
Advocacy groups say rule focuses too much on emission reductions through increased adoption of zero-emission vehicles
But, some environmental advocacy groups say the EPA’s proposal does not go far enough. More than 140 groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity and GreenLatinos sent a letter to the EPA as the public comment period closed requesting that the agency enact stricter standards, especially for internal combustion engines. They say the rule focuses too much on emission reductions through the increased adoption of zero-emission vehicles such as electric cars and trucks.
“While electrification is undoubtedly an effective and important means of securing emissions reductions, there will also be tens of millions of gas guzzlers that will be sold before EVs become dominant,” the letter states. “EPA’s rule should focus on curbing emissions from these vehicles as well, as they fuel climate change and needlessly pollute low income and communities of color.”
Scott Hochberg, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a press release that automakers have tools that can reduce emissions from large trucks and SUVs, but many of them have lagged behind in implementing those tools.
“EPA must strengthen its rule to curb climate pollution from the millions of SUVs and trucks that will be sold in coming years,” he said. “This would be life-changing for the vulnerable people and communities suffering every day from tailpipe pollution.”
The letter highlights some of these tools.
One example given is turbocharged engines, which the groups say “allow for more efficient engine design and operation.”
They cite statistics that turbocharged engines are used in about 80 percent of Ford’s vehicles, but are only present in 37 percent of vehicles manufactured by General Motors. Stellantis, previously known as Chrysler, uses turbocharged engines in about 13 percent of the vehicles it manufactures. Toyota, the groups say, has only installed turbocharged engines in 3 percent of its vehicles.
Another way to cut down on emissions, according to the letter, is cylinder deactivation. This allows only a portion of the engine to be used when less power is needed. The groups cite statistics that show 54 percent of GM’s vehicles have cylinder deactivation. Of the major United States automobile manufacturers, GM leads in terms of cylinder deactivation. About 22 percent of Stellantis’ vehicles and 21 percent of Ford’s vehicles utilize cylinder deactivation.
“EPA’s past rulemakings caused significant overall improvements in the gas-powered fleet. Yet with the proposed rule, if automakers manage to achieve the EV targets, emissions reductions from their gas-powered cars and trucks are allowed to stall,” the letter states. “Even worse, there is a risk that automakers will backslide on improvements to their gas-powered fleets, arguing that they need to profit from selling more gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, while also claiming that the added emissions would be canceled out with increased EVs.”
The impacts of vehicle pollution are not evenly distributed.
Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be affected by emissions.
“About 30 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution comes from transportation, and Latino/a/e, Black, Indigenous, Asian, and other communities of color are overburdened by this pollution they do not create,” Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, GreenLatinos Sustainable Communities program director, said in a press release. “These disparities have only increased over time relative to the air quality standards set by the EPA. People of color are 3.7 times more likely than white people to live in a county with failing air quality. That means these communities have higher rates of severe health impacts, like higher cases of childhood asthma, COPD, cancer, and more.”
How fast can the transition to electric vehicles occur
The pace at which the transition to electric vehicles occurs depends on various factors, according to industry groups and automobile manufactures.
“Automakers support a transition to electric vehicles and have already invested over $110 billion in the U.S. to achieve this goal. The question isn’t can this be done, but how fast can it be done,” Mike Hartrick said in comments submitted on behalf of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.
President Joe Biden set a goal of 50 percent of the vehicles sold in 2030 consisting of electric vehicles. Hartrick describes this as an ambitious and challenging goal. He said meeting that goal requires increasing the access to electric vehicle charging stations across the country and implementing consumer incentives.
Additionally, he said critical mineral supplies are “projected to be woefully short of demand.” These supplies are largely controlled by China.
“In that context, the proposed standards are a significant movement of the country’s electrification goal posts – not by a little, but by a lot,” Hartrick said.
He said the proposal calls for more significant expansion of electric vehicles, particularly battery electric vehicles, than Biden’s goal.
Ford also expressed concerns with feasibility in its submitted comments.
In a comment submitted by Ford Motor Company, the company says the new vehicle standards “may be the most consequential in our nation’s history” because they “coincide with and facilitate” the transition to zero-emission vehicles.
“While we remain optimistic, we are also mindful of the considerable challenges and uncertainties that lie ahead,” Cynthia Williams wrote on behalf of Ford Motor Company in submitted comments. “The pace of electrification has been and may continue to be limited by many factors and forces, many of which are outside the control of vehicle manufacturers.”
Williams cited many of the same factors Hartrick mentioned, such as critical mineral supplies and consumer demand.
Consumer demand was the primary area that National Automobile Dealers Association focused on in its submitted comment, penned by Jeffrey Weber, a car dealer from Iowa.
In the comment, he stated that “customers have unique motor vehicle transportation needs, and their willingness and ability to pay for a new or used motor vehicle varies widely.”
“As EPA moves forward with its rulemaking it must recognize that the motoring public is not monolithic and that, above all else, new mandates must be carefully tailored so as not to undermine vehicle affordability or performance,” Weber said.
He said the proposed emissions requirements will “ratchet down on NOx, particulate matter, and greenhouse gas emissions.”
At his dealership, Weber hears concerns from consumers about battery life and access to charging stations.
“A meaningful growth in EV adoption will depend on a broad, unified strategy that considers the vital importance of consumer incentives, charging infrastructure, utility capacity, resources for battery manufacturing and the availability to consumers across the country of these newly-produced EVs themselves – just to name a few key factors,” he said.
He warned that if the mandates lead to more expensive vehicles that the public cannot afford, people will opt to buy used cars instead or will put off buying a new vehicle.